The Vanishing Bedouins of Amman

The weather in Toronto has been great lately so I try and get out more often for a walk. Walking in Toronto is of course a lot different from walking back home in Amman. Notably there are sidewalks, a lot of park land and a lot of driver-pedestrian respect, which makes walking a whole lot easier. Of the many random thoughts that enter my brain on such walks I noticed the asphalt was generally always clean and this of course reminded me of Amman. Don’t get me wrong, while Jordanians and particularly Ammanites are big litter bugs the city has a great team of sanitation workers that keep the streets pretty clean. So everything from Pepsi cans to black plastic bags and shawarma wrappers that decorate the streets of the city are usually cleaned up everyday. But one item of debris has been disappearing from these streets which I noticed last summer when I was there…

Sheep droppings.

Not much of that in Toronto.

Sheep droppings used to be a big staple of Jordanian life and in Amman it was a normal sight until the late 90’s and into the 21st century as the city modernised and it became more of a clash of classes and/or cultures. Yet Bedouins still herded their goats through the streets of high end residences of areas like Abdoun and Swefieh. There was a time when cars would stop patiently while a young boy and his brother lead their sheep across a busy main street or an intersection, slowing down the heart beat of Amman for just a bit.

But now cars zoom by with ease.

For a while Bedouin tents were pitched all over the place, in between villas and apartment buildings, on small pieces of land here and there. They sold their sheep during Eid and they harvested cousa, tobacco, wheat and cucumbers on lands that lined the main streets of Amman; selling them in white styrofoam boxes. In the summer they even pitched watermelon tents but did less of that in the past decade after the whole thing became commercialised by Ammanite sellers.

Nevertheless their tents have been disappearing more and more. The sheet droppings are no where to be found. In part because of the rapid construction of buildings which have filled up all the available land. So every time a land is sold the Bedouins are ‘evicted’ and they move on to find somewhere else. In place of a tent is a construction site. The inner areas of the city are being filled so the Bedouins are being pushed outside the borders of the city; away from the public eye.

When I took walks in Amman I used to curse the sea of sheep droppings that a herd had just left behind. Especially when I walked to school early in the morning and a fresh trail of droppings covered the asphalt which meant a Bedouin had just passed by with the Sun rise, beating the city’s morning traffic. For years my sneakers were unsafe; their front ends worn down from having to tip toe around this stuff. Now that it’s gone it’s a reminder of another thing that has vanished from Amman: the Bedouins, the culture, the tradition. Amman was more like a quilt made up of a diverse patchwork and with Bedouins leaving it feels like a patch is missing.

And it makes me feel bad as a Jordanian, like I was part of some collective effort to drive Bedouins out. Modernization has brought one thing and removed another. With land prices being driven up in the last few years a lot of Bedouins struck rich, but a lot of them just lived on the lands and gave a share of their harvest to the owners, sometimes they just ‘looked after’ the land. Iâ??ve known Bedouins who were richer than people who live in Abdoun villas but they stuck to their roots and didnâ??t make any dramatic changes to their lifestyles. It was a way of preserving the most fundamental aspects of Jordanian traditions. Generosity and chivalry that Bedouin’s are famous for have been on the decline in Amman and I think it’s because less and less of them pitch their tents in the city so theyâ??ve taken all of that with them. Passing by a Bedouin tent in your car was a healthy reminder of roots and traditions that these people strive to keep alive.

Their absence I guess makes the city appear even more segregated class wise; east and west. Now if you live in west Amman (and don’t get out much) you can see Bedouins on Jordanian soap operas but only if you watch JTV instead of the 300 other satellite channels. You can also see someone dressed as a Bedouin in the lobbies of some 5 star hotels serving coffee and you can even get your picture taken with the guy if you’re pale white, don’t speak Arabic, travel in groups and look constantly lost.

Suffice to say…

I miss the tents and I miss the cars stopping for the herds and I miss the harvests and I miss the Bedouin fires that competed with the street lights and I miss all the sights one could see almost anywhere across Amman.

And yes, I kind of miss the droppings and I miss tip toeing around them.


  • Call me backward, but I prefer sheep droppings, tasteless posters and watermelon tents to forms of modern city life. City life can be very depressing, give it a couple of more years and we’ll be seeing fake plastic trees.

  • Beautiful post!

    It gave me great joy as a kid to watch those sheep herds pass in front of our house in Amman. Those were some of my most cherished childhood memories 🙂

  • good post..actually when i was in jordan last summer i was telling my sister that i didnt want jordan to be so modern.. dont get me wrong, i want it to excel in science and technology and other stuff but i still want to feel that i am going to jordan and not america… i want to see tents with watermelons, the kids herding the sheep, the dakakeen around the city, just isnt jordan without these things, at least this is how i feel..

  • it just isnt jordan without these things, at least this is how i feel..


    give it a couple of more years and weâ??ll be seeing fake plastic trees.

Your Two Piasters: